News Article

Australia Introduces Workers’ ‘Right to Disconnect’

Posted 23rd February 2024 • Written by Natasha Frost and Isabella Kwai on •

If the legislation passes, companies could face fines if they penalize employees for failing to respond to work-related communication in off-work hours.

When it’s after hours, and the boss is on the line, Australian workers — already among the world’s best-rested and most personally fulfilled employees — can soon press “decline” in favor of the seductive call of the beach.

In yet another buttress against the scourge of overwork, Australia’s Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would give workers the right to ignore calls and messages outside working hours without fear of repercussion. It will now return to the House of Representatives for final approval.

The new bill, which is expected to pass in the House with ease, would let Australian workers refuse “unreasonable” professional communication outside the workday. Workplaces that punished employees for not responding to such demands could be fined.

“Someone who is not being paid 24 hours a day shouldn’t be penalized if they’re not online and available 24 hours a day,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The provision is a last-minute amendment to a package of proposed legal changes aimed at strengthening workers’ rights. The legislation, which also includes protections for temporary workers looking to become more permanent and new standards for gig workers, such as food delivery drivers, had been heavily debated.

Australia follows in the footsteps of European nations such as France, which in 2017 introduced the right of workers to disconnect from employers while off duty, a move later emulated by Germany, Italy and Belgium. The European Parliament has also called for a law across the European Union that would alleviate the pressure on workers to answer communications off the clock.

“The world is connected, but that has created a problem,” Tony Burke, the minister for employment and workplace relations, said in an interview with Australia’s public broadcaster on Tuesday.

“If you’re in a job where you’re only paid for the exact hours that you’re working, some people are now constantly in a situation of getting in trouble if they’re not checking their emails,” Mr. Burke added. It is reasonable for employers to contact their workers about shifts and other matters, he said, but workers should not be obligated to respond to these messages during their uncompensated hours.

Unions and other industrial groups have long argued that employees have the right to disconnect, but the issue gained salience during the pandemic, when a widespread shift to remote work led to the further blurring of boundaries between home life and work life.

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